By Shaun Boyd

(CBS) – A World War II veteran from Colorado is finally able to honor the sailor who saved his life 76 years ago.

(credit: CBS)

Donald Stratton was aboard the USS Arizona when it was bombed by the Japanese on Dec. 7, 1941. He was engulfed in fire and the ship was sinking when out of nowhere he saw a rope. A sailor on a nearby ship — against the orders of his commanding officer who was worried the Arizona would drag their ship down with it — threw a line to Stratton and five of his shipmates, who were also on fire, saving their lives.

That sailor, Joe George, is finally being recognized for that selfless act so many years ago.

Joe George (credit: CBS)

At the annual Pearl Harbor memorial in Hawaii, George was awarded the Bronze Star posthumously.

“The question was always asked, who was he? And always our answer was, if we only knew,” said Nikki Stratton, Donald’s granddaughter, who spoke at the ceremony in Hawaii.

She talked about the decades-long search for George and about finally finding him, only to learn he had died in 1996.

Nikki Stratton (credit: CBS)

“We would never get to say thank you to his face, just a simple thank you,” she said choking back tears.

Donald Stratton (credit: CBS)

Donald Stratton asked the Navy to recognize George with the Bronze Star medal, but he had disobeyed an order.

“From that moment on it became an all-consuming project, gathering information about Joe … phone calls, emails, it was endless. How can we get this guy recognized? He deserves a medal. He saved six lives,” said Nikki Stratton.

Sen. Cory Gardner (credit: CBS)

She says it wasn’t until Sen. Cory Gardner stepped that the Navy relented:

“To Senator Gardner, you kept your word and that means more to us than you will never know,” she said.

Gardner recognized George and Stratton, who lives in Colorado Springs, on the Senate floor.

“It is beyond words and excitement that we can be part of this monumental occasion with so many others who worked tirelessly through the years to make this happen. Please know that your work to achieve this one last salute to courage proves that you will never be forgotten.”

(credit: CBS)

It took 76 years, but Joe George was finally honored for his heroism on Dec. 7th, 1941.

“You could have turned away but you didn’t. You chose the impossible. You chose to stand up for men you didn’t even know.”

RELATED: American Legion In Denver Helps Honor Pearl Harbor Anniversary

Shaun Boyd is CBS4’s political specialist. She’s a veteran reporter with more than 25 years of experience. Follow her on Twitter @cbs4shaun.

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